By Karl Reed, VP of Solutions at Connect.
In recent history, the contact centre industry has seen tremendous technological innovation and advances.
Automation, big data, CRM (customer relationship management), hybrid systems, cloud, workforce management and predictive analytics have been the driving force for this innovation and have greatly improved how contact centres manage interactions to improve CX (customer experience).
Most recently, Covid-19 caused significant disruption and pressure in the industry with increased call volumes and customer interactions, according to the Harvard Business Review. Additionally, and perhaps the most significant pressure, the push towards remote work compelled C-suite executives to re-evaluate their contact centre solutions and adopt unchartered strategies. Harvard Business Review notes that calls increased by 50% worldwide. 68% of contact centres saw an increase in customer complaint escalations, with the most common cause being cited as financial difficulty. While manual routing and escalation remained the norm, hold times increased by 34% during the early phases of the pandemic.
In response to the disruption, the industry pioneered the use of advanced technologies to enable seamless remote work and to enhance CX.
2023 will see a continuation of this trend and contact centres will continue to deploy advanced technologies and unchartered CX strategies.
CX: An evolving concept.
CX as a trend is not newly discovered. The terms CX and contact centre are harmonious. According to CustomerThink, the CX movement got its start around 2000 and was popularised roughly 5 years later, in 2005. However, CX is by no means a mastered and fully explored concept. It is an ever-evolving concept, and the simultaneous evolution of the contact centre is often the benchmark for success, setting apart proactive brands from reactive competitors.
The pandemic illuminated a principal component of contemporary CX: omnichannel contact centres. Consumers expect to engage with businesses via multiple channels. Customers (especially Gen Z) now do not accept being confined to one touchpoint or communication channel. They demand the freedom to interact with a business in their preferred way: social media, live chats, SMS, email, phone, or a virtual assistant, with the need for instant gratification.
A true omnichannel contact centre solution allows agents to access information from every interaction across every touchpoint in one single platform, collecting important data and helping them provide optimised and customised customer service, and deliver a consistent experience across devices and communication channels. This is fundamental for improved CX and must be considered as a customer engagement strategy if a business wishes to deliver enhanced and competitive service in 2023.
EX: The unsung heroes.
To deliver great CX, a business must strategically consider EX (employee experience). In fact, EX is so fundamental to CX that there is the potential for EX to surpass CX as a focal strategy in 2023, and the years to come.
This is not to say that CX will dissipate. Contrary, EX will bolster CX and the need for enhanced CX will propel the shift to an emphasised EX strategy.
Agents are the unsung heroes of CX. They deliver the experience to customers and are expected to do this in a manner that aligns with overall strategic business goals. CX is a shared responsibility and agent buy-in is crucial to success. Buy-in is only possible when employees feel they work in a positive environment. For this to truly be effective, agents need to be prioritised. They need to feel valued and must be nurtured as advocates for the business.
A largely unchartered strategy, “the customer is not always right”, might be onboarded by early adopters in 2023. This is not to say that the customer is never right, and their opinion should be discarded. But rather that if the customer is always right, then the employee is always wrong. This will have a considerable impact on the morale of agents. When agent morale is low, poor CX can be expected.
AI: Here to stay.
The pandemic heightened the need for non-human interactions, taking pressure off live agents and allowing customers to manage their enquiries promptly. Although there has been a lot of industry hype and vast technological improvements, there is still a way to go in developing AI to its full potential within the contact centre space. 2024 promises to see leaps and bounds in this development and as such, 2023 should be utilised for planning.
A business would be remise to late adopt AI technology and its connected applications. The technology will profoundly shape both CX and EX. This technology will not be simple to adopt without preparation and it would be wise to early adopt and evolve requirements with the contact centre technology.
How to prepare to adopt AI.
- Be cloud-based
- AI needs a significant number of servers to function optimally. On-premises solutions simply do not efficiently offer the number of resources required, whereas cloud does.
- Prepare to integrate
- AI needs to learn from information to function. It will need to be embedded and integrated into existing solutions.
- Clean data
- AI will need to function off clean data structures to be effective. 2023 is an opportunity to ensure data is clean.
- Secure data
- When AI is integrated into data, confidential data will need to be secured to remain compliant.
Looking toward 2023.
Looking toward 2023, businesses must try to anticipate contact centre trends and become early adopters. As technology advances exponentially, while the industry is still recovering from the pandemic, there is no room for complacency and inaction. CX, EX and AI will shape the future of contact centres sooner, rather than later.